There are so many supplements available on the market, and let’s face it, for most of us the terms used by manufacturers is just really confusing!
Ridden work often requires horses to canter or gallop, jump, turn, start and stop, placing an enormous strain on the skeletal system. Joint deterioration can be a limiting factor in career longevity of athletic horses, and so care and maintenance of joints are a major concern among horse owners. For most owners, maintaining one horse into their late teens or early 20’s as a ridden horse is important, and we all want to ensure our horse is comfortable, therefore joint supplements are something which we often add to our horses diet, and is something I recommend for most horses who are in their teens to act as a preventative against further deterioration of the joint.
While I’m not going to discuss specific brands, I would like to tell you about some of the most common joint supplement ingredients so that you can decide which ones may be most beneficial for your horse!
- Glucosamine: Glucosamine is the basic building block of all connective tissues, including cartilage, in all forms of life. It is produced naturally in the horse’s body, however during times of stress and damage to the joint area, it seems the body can not naturally produce enough glucosamine. Glucosamine can be effective in relieving pain, sometimes in as short a time as 10 to 14 days. Studies have shown that it can slow cartilage breakdown and may encourage healing.
- Chondroitin: Chondroitin sulfate is a major structural component of cartilage, bone, and tough connective tissues. The pain-relieving effects of chondroitin are not as obvious as with glucosamine. The greatest benefit of chondroitin appears to be prevention of further cartilage breakdown.
- Hyaluronic Acid (also known as sodium hyaluronate): Hyaluronic acid is found naturally in your horse’s synovial fluid, which is the fluid contained in movable joints. Hyaluronic acid is responsible for making synovial fluid viscous and lubricating the joint surfaces. This may make it helpful for controlling pain, heat, and swelling, particularly in arthritic joints.
- Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM): There is very little objective research available on MSM. Benefits of MSM appear to include membrane penetration, membrane transport, reduced formation of new connective (scar) tissue, anti-inflammation, free radical scavenging, and nerve blockade (analgesia). MSM probably acts through the ability to reduce inflammation by stabilizing cell membranes, preventing the release of lipids that are the source of prostaglandins. In doing so, there is reduced production of secondary chemical messengers that intensify the pain, swelling, and joint effusion.
As you can see from the above information, there are many supplements to choose from, and these are just a few of the more common ones! I have not found one pre-mixed supplement which works best for all horses, and so it is a case of trial and error to see which supplement works best for your horse. Most of these ingredients can be bought individually, and it may be more cost effective to do this and combine them yourself, as often pre-mixed supplements don’t have the required dosage of all ingredients. Often a combination of 2 or more of the above ingredients is needed to get best results, as they all have slightly different effects in the body. You will often find glucosamine & chondroitin together, and hyaluronic acid and MSM together, or multiple other combinations!
If you are competing, it is also worth checking that whatever supplements/medications you are giving your horse are not on the prohibited list. You can check this out yourself at the FEI Clean Sport Database.